Religious Magic in The Fantasy Trip

Religious Magic in The Fantasy Trip

In the canon rules of The Fantasy Trip, priests are just like any other character. There is no character class for clerics or druids, as in D&D and other games. There are a few reasons for this, but the end result is that religious magic is left up to the GM and the players to work out. That means opportunity…

Warning! Mini-Rant

Please allow me to digress for a second. I hate the concept of character classes. Hate it. One of the things I loved about TFT was that there were no classes. The closest thing was you were a wizard or not. Period.

My problem with classes is that they restrict players and characters to someone else’s artificial constructs. I don’t like that the character is limited by what he can or cannot do, or what spells he can cast. The beauty of the talent portion of In The Labyrinth is that it lets the player create a character that matches exactly what he wants–and not have to shoehorn it around artificial barriers.

Clerics & Druids

The reason I went on this mini-rant is because the idea of clerics and druids embodies all of those restrictions. And that’s a shame. Priests and wizards have been a cornerstone in fantasy from the start. Whether it was the evil priest/sorcerer in stories like Conan or the wizard priests of the Deryni books–they’ve been around.

Keep in mind, I’m not talking about priestly spells like you find in D&D or Heroes & Other Worlds. I’m talking about the mechanics of religious magic–not the spells, but how do you make the priest magical within the rules of the game.

The “problem” with TFT is that it does not really spell out how to be a wizard-priest. You can be just a priest by buying the Priest talent; or you can be a wizard, buy the Priest talent (at 4 points–ouch!), and get other spells; or you can be a hero, buy the Priest talent at regular cost, then get spells for 3 points each. And that is only for normal magic–that assumes no influence by a holy or unholy god.

When you read the canon rules, they mention none of this. They talk about how if the GM determines that a religion is real, they may get some occasional influence on die rolls–very vague. So what is there to do?

Religious Influence

Unfortunately, there is not a simple answer that I can see. It all depends. The GM (and not the players) must decide if a given religion has any influence. If it does, then the priest/priestess/shaman can pray away and hope for the best.

And, regardless of whether a religion has any influence, the character can still cast spells. No matter how you explain how the magic works, in order to keep it simple, just have religious spells work the same way as regular ones do. That keeps everything simple, stays within the canon rules, and everyone is happy.

If you want to take things further, though, you can limit the actual spells a priest-wizard can cast. The list itself would depend on how good or evil the religion is. You could also add the roleplaying element and play up how those spells are cast.

For example, a simple lightning spell can be cast by a wizard that strikes one of his opponents. But cast the same spell as an evil priest: the priest prays that his god EvilBadOne smite his enemies with his power and cast fear into the hearts of the unbelievers… And WHAM! The mechanics are the same, but Fritz is still a crispy critter, fried by the power of the Evil God–with a lot mor pizzazz.

I think TFT has more opportunities for religious magic like that than the higher-plane magics you find in high level AD&D games. Maybe that is just how I like the feel of my fantasy gaming. In the end, it is up to you and how you want to play any game–but whatever you do, have fun and play it up!

So–how have you handled priests and religion magic in your TFT campaigns? Any house rules or roleplaying ideas? Let me know!

Marko ∞


  1. You should look into the old Interplay magaizines they put out just before metagaming went out of business. They are chock full of variants and extra rules from players for TFT. There is an article in Interplay #4 that has an expanded priest tallent, it is simple and easy to use with TFT. It inspired me to add a healing spell into the game, with limits, and I have found that it helps with all the damage players recieve from multiple combats and allows the game to go on.

  2. This is one of the major issues I’ve grappled with throughout my 42 years of role-playing. I’ve run the gamut from D&D weirdness to TFT nothing and back again. It’s good that you mentioned Katherine Kurtz’s Deryni novels, because they finally provided me with some insight on how a GOOD religion might work. As a direct result of the Deryni novels (and, btw, there is a “Deryni” race template provided in “The Space Gamer #21”), I began to focus more on a psuedo-Catholic type church as a major player with the various “BadGod” types being more analogous to the Great Old Ones in HPL, and being served by evil cultists. My recent discovery of “Dragon Warriors” cemented this process for me, finally, since they have some very nice features in there about how religion can work in game terms, and they aren’t that far off of TFT in rules terms either (yeah, the basic mechanisms are completely different, but the rules themselves can be easily interpreted in TFT terms with very little brain twisting).

    As far as “clerical magic” goes, the mechanisms I’ve always used were basic TFT, but the Spells were frequently different (CURSE gets an anti-Spell, BLESS, for example). And Miracles were a possibility.

    I’m still fumbling around the edges of this somewhat (does a cleric really use ST to power his spells, or is he “granted” ST by his deity? How does that work?) with questions on the details, but overall, I like the idea of monolithic religions (and yes, both my pseudo-Catholic Church, and a pseudo-Islamic Church, exist, along with various oriental philosophical approaches), because the players are already familiar with the concept and the “pantheon” if you will, and find it easier to relate to something like that in the big-picture scheme of the game. And as far as Pagan religions go, well, there’s the typical Norse pantheon, the Elvish religious thought (sort of a combination of certain pagan entities and an oriental philosophical basis), and the Dwarvish pantheon, along with a sort of pseudo-Tengri religion for the Steppe barbarians (the Great Blue Sky, and the holy mountain, etc.).

    In short, I found it more reliable over the long run to use basic religious structures similar to our own Earth, though changed in certain subtle (and not so subtle) ways to throw a bit of a wrench in the works for those players who want to assume to much on their historical readings. Doing this has tended to keep religion at somewhat of an arm’s length for the average player, in the sense that they aren’t using the local temple as a “gas and go” stop for a little healing, a potion or two, and a quick bite to eat before wandering off again without any strings attached. Which is what religion in the many D&D (and AD&D, and AD&D 2.0, and 3.0 and 3.5, and all their many derivatives) all too often seems to degenerate into. I prefer my religions mysterious, hauntingly familiar, and potentially very dangerous for those who seek to misuse or abuse them…

  3. Personally I’ve always hated the way that D&D did religion by making clerics, priest, etc. nothing more than another type of spell caster who’s deity always responds but have struggled with how to play them. Like Jeff above I’ve always believed that gods should be mysterious and not automatically available. The only system I’ve read that took an entirely different approach was HarnMaster. In that system religious characters have a Piety Point pool that they can spend to ask their god to intervene in some method. This pool is increased by performing some action (worship, service, etc.) that their god would find beneficial. And there’s always a chance, based on the die roll, that the god might not intervene as requested.

    Although I’ve adapted the above to my house rules I haven’t had a chance to play them yet so I can’t really speak to how playable they are. Yet.

  4. Good point, John. I’ve wanted to dig into the Harn game, but haven’t gotten around to it. Sounds interesting.

  5. I recently picked up TFT for an old game world I had started working on back in the early 80s (single map and some notes written in the margins). In this world there is no magic. Well there had been magic, but there was a cataclysm and then there was no magic, but now something is going on and magic is starting to wax again. In this world there are 4 gods, and only 4 gods. There characters are the Chosen of the Gods. At the end of Character creation they were gifted with a couple extra points of IQ that they could use to buy spells or additional talents. The spells available were based on which of the four gods the character chose to worship. None of the characters are priests and the PCs are currently the only magic using members of their entire race.

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